Prologue – Old Sirus

The Northern Coast of Angedras

The Month of Storms, Year 1103 of The Atheri Empire

On the island of Angedras there lived a man who had traveled the world. Some called him "Sirus the Great" on account of his exploits, but towards the end of his life he became known as "Old Sirus" or "Sirus the Drunk". He was a fisherman by trade, and it was often said that one could not walk past him without picking up a touch of salt.

Old Sirus claimed to be a hundred years old, and he certainly looked it. His face was weathered like driftwood, most of his teeth were gone, and the hair on his head was as white and wispy. Still, he never missed a working day, not even in winter when the weather was cold and winds unruly. When asked how he kept in such good health, Old Sirus would gesture to his blue witch eyes with a wicked smirk.

"A bit of dragon blood keeps a body young." He would say.

In truth, Old Sirus was not much of a witch, and certainly no dragon. Nevertheless, he was commonly called upon to say prayers over new boats and to tie his good luck charms to nets and crab traps. Even if he couldn't work real magic, Old Sirus was no ordinary fisherman. His luck was uncanny, and everyone hoped that some of it would rub off on them.

Though many captains wished to count him amongst their crew, Old Sirus always sailed alone. He had a small, ancient skiff which leaked so badly that it barely stayed afloat. When his skiff filled with water, Old Sirus bailed it out with a bucket and poured a little more tar in the holes. If the sky above turned murderous and lesser men clung white-knuckled, to their boats, Old Sirus would simply sit down and take a long drink of northern whiskey.

"I once passed through the Straits of Sacerin on a log raft, naked as the day I was born – I was using my shirt and breeches for a sail! I'm kin to the Stormchaser!" He would claim, invoking the island's reclusive dragon. "So long as she flies, I'll fish!"

Of course, no one took him seriously. If there was one thing that Old Sirus loved more than his whiskey, it was telling stories about himself.

"When I was young, I dreaded hard labor," Old Sirus would often begin. "I didn't want to be a fisherman like my father and so I stowed away on an Atheri ship. Couldn't read then. Thought it was a merchant barque bound for Freeport. When the Captain finally caught me, we were halfway to Ilskaa – and I found out I'd joined the Imperial Army! I thought I'd worked hard before, fixin' nets!

And if he had an audience, he would sometimes continue on, "Oh, you think it's hot today, do you? Why, twas ten times more miserable than this when I marched across the Ksrali Wildlands! Fought at Makeena I did, and the Siege of Wul. Had two of my fingers bitten off by a dragon!"

Old Sirus was indeed missing two of his fingers, but if a dragon had bitten them off, it had done so in a manner that looked remarkably similar to the Ilskaan punishment for thievery. In any case, after the Border Wars had ended twenty years past, Old Sirus had taken to the bottle and became what he had sworn he would never be – a fisherman.

It was in the midst of a singularly terrible storm that Old Sirus made what he called "the catch of his life". One of his nets snagged on something far below the surface, and he refused to relinquish it to the depths. In his usual state of inebriation, he shouted curses to Ercha, the Goddess of the Sea, and somehow managed to heave his net aboard. After tossing part of an anchor and a dozen little fish back into the water, Old Sirus discovered that he had also caught a man.

The man was tall and pale with long golden hair. He was dressed in fine cobalt-colored silks and a suit of silvery armor that had lost none of its luster. Though he appeared to be dead, the beasts of the sea had not touched his body. Even the scuttling crabs on the deck of Old Sirus's little boat shied away from him. The man wore a fine ring on his left hand. It was the largest sapphire that Old Sirus had ever seen, marked at its heart with a perfect white star.

Clearly, this was no lost Silesian merchant or pretentious Eruli scholar. Even a Valsarran noble shipwrecked and killed would have been cause for alarm, but Old Sirus knew without a doubt that the body he had discovered was that of an Atheri lord.

The Atheri were the masters of the whole world, kin to the dragons, and servants only to the Gods. Panic seized Old Sirus. Though he often exaggerated his tales, he had served under the Duke of Valsarra and fought on the front lines during the bloody Siege of Wul. He knew what the Atheri were capable of. Although some were slayers of fiends and great heroes, they were also quick to anger and infamous for their death curses.

While the Atheri showed no signs of life, Old Sirus knew that the Gifted were masters of deception. Perhaps he was only feigning death to avoid a more terrible fate? After all, when one ran afoul of a truly powerful Mage, one always hoped for a swift end.

He studied the lord's ring with fascination. It was an Imperial signet, and at first he thought the heraldic device was a lion. As he squinted at it, he realized that the creature had six toes on each of its feet and a line of flames running from the top of its head to the tip of its tail. It was a sylf, the dreaded offspring of a large forest cat and a fiend. Such a ring could only belong to a man of particularly foul temperament.

Still, the sapphire was too great of a temptation. Old Sirus tried to remove the ring from the dead man's finger, but it would not come off. The moment he reached for his knife, the dead man gasped for breath. He seized Old Sirus by the shoulders, shaking him furiously, his eyes wild with fear.

"The Tower must be warned! The Court must be warned!"

As suddenly as he had risen, the Atheri collapsed again. Old Sirus listened for his heartbeat. The man was clearly dead.

Fearing some great evil to be afoot, Old Sirus did "the only thing he could". He said a prayer to Ercha, stripped the lord of all of his belongings, and dumped him back into the sea.

"He was dead, I tell you, three days dead at least! Some Magecraft must have compelled him to give that message. But warn The Tower of what? And to go all the way to Ilskaa? Impossible!" Old Sirus protested. "What else was I to do? Ercha rest his soul!"

In the weeks that followed, Old Sirus enjoyed the fame that his new story brought and drank away most of his ill-gotten treasure, except for the sapphire ring. A change came over him near the end of the Month of Storms. His usual tales took a darker turn. He became increasingly paranoid, convinced that the Atheri he'd thrown into the sea was alive and hunting for him. Before winter's end, Old Sirus hung himself. He was buried quietly and his single valuable possession, the lord's sapphire ring, was given to the local tavern keeper, the only man to whom Old Sirus owed a debt.

Not long after, the tavern keeper was also found dead. There was no sign of Old Sirus's ring.

It was the Atheri lord's curse, some claimed... and it would be best for everyone if that ring were never seen again.